Crisis Communications: Are You Prepared?

Strategies to help your company craft messages that manage crises

The expansion of the internet has made it easier than ever for consumers to engage with brands. Consumer engagement can come in the form of praises over a new product, service, or outstanding customer service. It can also be negative in nature — the wrong product or a bad customer experience. The latter usually receives the most attention.

Social media is usually the preferred choice of engagement and companies should be prepared to respond to engagement that could do damage to their brand’s reputation.

A timely response is essential. Long gone are the days brands are able to ignore negative comments and conduct business as usual. Consumers are paying close attention to how brands respond to negative chatter, particularly if that chatter relates to political, racial, or social issues.

The audience your brand serves doesn’t matter, your targeted audience expects you to respond in a manner consistent with your brand’s values.

The Institute for Public Relations defines a crisis as an event that poses significant threat to operations and can have negative consequences if not handled properly.

Is your company prepared to respond to a crisis? Do you have a crisis communication plan and team established?

If not, now is the time to assemble a crisis communication plan for your company. The question is not, if a crisis will occur … but when it will occur. A timely response is paramount. The longer it takes your brand to respond to a crisis event, the more damage your brand’s reputation endures.

Creating a crisis communication plan is not difficult, but it requires strategic planning and thought. To help you better manage the creation of the plan, let’s separate it into three phases: pre-crisis, mid-crisis, and post-crisis.

Each phase provides a few strategies to help you create and implement a crisis communication plan specific to your company’s mission and needs.

Pre-Crisis

  1. Identify Team Members: Meet with senior executives and identify members to serve on your company’s Crisis Communication Team (CCT). This team should consist of the company’s CEO and representatives from: public relations (PR), legal, and major divisions within the organization. This team should also include subject matter experts in the event that the response requires technical language. A crisis manager should also be identified, someone who will lead and organize events related to response from start to finish.Your legal representative should understand that “no comment” is not an acceptable answer during a crisis. It conveys guilt and suspicion to the public. They should work closely with the PR representative to approve language that adequately addresses the situation without compromising possible legal issues.
  2. Create Crises Scenarios: Plan brainstorming sessions with your CCT. Think of all the potential crises that could threat your brand’s reputation. Consider all the issues in society that could cause your consumer to engage with your brand outside of the products and services you provide to the market. These issues could be political, racial, societal, environmental, etc.Look at the current issues circulating and study how other brands have responded. Create a response to those issues based on your brands values and mission. Think of how the crisis event could affect other areas of your company and prepare a plan to mitigate damage to areas such as operations and personnel.An assessment checklist can serve as a framework for an efficient and effective response.
  3. Identify & Train Authorized Spokespersons: One or more persons should be identified and authorized to speak on the company’s behalf. This person should ideally be the CEO or a senior level executive. They should be pre-screened and trained to convey a clear and consistent message using multiple channels of communications.Identifying a spokesperson while in the line of fire could be a poor and costly decision.Ensure the spokespersons are professionally trained to speak to the media. You want to avoid your organization’s message being misconstrued or misinterpreted. Proper training will prepare your spokesperson to optimally deliver the message to all stakeholders.

Mid-Crisis

  1. Define Your Stakeholders: It is important to define those affected by the crises. It will help you craft a message that resonates with them and their concerns about the event. Your stakeholders are internal and external, don’t forget to address your internal stakeholder. They may have questions and concerns about how the event affects them on a professional level.
  2. Develop Talking Points: It will take time to develop a strategic response applicable to the crisis event. Talking points can be prepared in advance based on the scenarios developed during the pre-crisis phase.Your organization will save time and be able to respond quickly while a more in-depth message is developed. Remember time is a critical factor when responding to a crisis.Review your talking points often and determine if they require revision and/or creation of additional talking points for different scenarios.
  3. Prepare a Transparent and Thoughtful Response: Consumers are not expecting you to be perfect, however, they are expecting you to address their concerns and/or negative comments about your organization. Don’t ignore or cover up the issue, it makes the organization look like they don’t care about the customers.If you are not informed about the issue, be honest and ask for time to look into the issue and become informed. If you made a mistake, apologize, and outline a corrective action plan.Put thought and effort into your response. It shows that you care about the consumers’ concerns and you’re willing to go above and beyond to address the problem.A carefully constructed and thoughtful response builds trust and allows you to foster a nurturing relationship with your customers. Your customers will appreciate it and become champions for your brand.Word-of-mouth referrals are more powerful than your own brand messaging.

Post-Crisis

  1. Finalize Crisis-Specific Messaging: After disseminating your talking points, finalize messaging specific to crises for any given situation. By now, your team knows what type of information stakeholders require and what messaging your company wants to convey to the public. Be brief and simple, identify a few main messages for all stakeholders and more targeted messaging for individual groups of stakeholders.Don’t forget to plan for your social media platforms.
  2. Conduct an After-Crisis Analysis: What went wrong? What went right? What did we learn? How can we improve?Those are all questions that need to be asked and analyzed. Decide who will be a part of the after-crisis analysis and who will work on the items identified for improvement.

Final Thoughts

Crisis Communication planning is an on-going process of analyzing and improving.

Today’s consumer is progressively aware of the issues affecting the many areas of our lives. It is imperative that your organization identify issues that may possibly threaten your brand’s reputation.

The steps outlined above will help you begin to create a framework to mitigate any threats your brand could sustain to its reputation during a crisis.

There’s power in preparedness.

Author’s Note: Lisa Maxime is founder of Zemy Enterprises, a business consulting firm providing sustainable, forward-thinking marketing & communications strategies and solutions to small and mid-size businesses. For more information on how Zemy can help your company envision, execute, and engage visit us at www.lisamaxime.com

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